Sports

Fans Are Markedly Less Interested in Women’s Tennis Without Serena Williams

As the sport’s most popular player prepares for retirement, roughly one-third of tennis fans say they’re about to be less interested in watching

Nearly 3 in 10 tennis fans (27%) said they are “less interested” in watching women’s tennis after Serena Williams retires, according to new Morning Consult data. (Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Sara Wickersham)

The Women’s Tennis Association will soon lose its most beloved star ever in Serena Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion and one of the most recognizable names in professional sports, who announced her retirement following the U.S. Open., which began this week in Queens, N.Y. To compound the issue for the WTA, its top 10 singles players aren’t yet household names, according to a new Morning Consult survey. 

The data shows that Williams, who revealed her farewell from tennis in a Vogue essay earlier this month, is far and away the sport’s most popular player. About 4 in 5 self-identified tennis fans (81%) said they have either a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of the superstar, who has amassed $450 million in career earnings, more than any other female athlete.

And not only is Williams — whose sponsors include Nike Inc., Gatorade, DirecTV and more — the sport’s biggest name, but a sizable number of fans say they will be less interested in watching the sport without her in it. 

Serena Williams Is the Most Popular Women’s Tennis Player

The share of tennis fans who said they have a favorable opinion of the following active and former players:

Survey conducted Aug. 13-14, 2022, among a representative sample of 706 self-identified tennis fans, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.

WTA’s popularity problem sans Williams 

  • After Williams and her older sister, Venus, the women’s tennis player with the highest favorability rating was legend Billie Jean King, with about 3 in 5 tennis fans (61%) saying they had at least a somewhat favorable opinion of the 78-year-old. Steffi Graf, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova followed, each at 58%. All four of those players are retired.
  • The most popular active player included in the survey other than Serena and Venus was Naomi Osaka. More than half of tennis fans (55%) had a favorable opinion of her, while about 1 in 4 tennis fans (24%) said they have never heard of the 24-year-old Japanese native, who in recent years has been outspoken about her mental health challenges
  • Polish tennis player Iga Świątek, the world’s top-ranked women’s singles player who had a 37-match win streak end last month, came in as the eighth most popular active player, the survey found. About 1 in 5 tennis fans (22%) said they have a favorable opinion of the 21-year-old, who is the favorite to win the U.S. Open, according to DraftKings betting odds. 
  • Among tennis fans, 70% said they have seen, read or heard either “a lot” or “some” about Williams’ retirement, compared with 48% of U.S. adults. 
Tennis Fans Are Noticeably Less Interested in Women’s Tennis After Serena Williams Retires

Respondents were asked how interested they would be in watching women’s tennis after Williams retires

Survey conducted Aug. 13-14, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Tennis fans’ interest wanes as Serena retires 

  • Almost 3 in 10 tennis fans (27%) said they are “less interested” in watching women’s tennis with Williams retiring, compared with 29% of self-identified women’s sports fans. About 1 in 3 U.S. adults (33%) and self-identified sports fans (32%) expressed the same sentiment.
  • A small share of tennis fans (15%) did say they are more interested in watching women’s tennis after Williams retires, perhaps in anticipation of new stars earning the spotlight.

The next face of women’s tennis 

Both Williams sisters, especially Serena, put tennis fans in front of their TVs. Viewership spikes when Serena competes in the U.S. Open women’s singles finals. And over the past decade, more fans tuned in for women’s singles finals matches at Wimbledon when Serena or Venus played. As the former retires and the latter, currently ranked 1,504th in the world, sparks retirement rumors of her own, the question remains: Who will be the new face of women’s tennis? Based on the Morning Consult survey, there aren’t a lot of obvious candidates.

The Aug. 13-14, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, including 1,513 self-identified sports fans, with unweighted margins of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points and plus or minus 3 percentage points, respectively. The survey also included 782 self-identified women’s sports fans and 706 self-identified tennis fans, both with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Morning Consult